‘Homeland’ Star Damian Lewis: ‘The Walls Close In’ During Season Two
Homeland star Damian Lewis didn’t want his character to send the wrong message. When the British actor was up for the role of secretly traitorous Nicholas Brody, he told producers: “Look, if you’re asking me to play a U.S. Marine who discovers Islam and then wants to go kill a lot of Americans because of Islam, I’m not interested. Because I think it would be irresponsible.” So far, Lewis is happy with the way the character has walked that fine line – not to mention the Emmy he won for the role. But for Brody, things are only getting worse in season two.
Did you have to go on some kind of extreme diet to play Brody at his thinnest?
No, I didn’t, actually. In fact, the times that we’ve seen Brody slim, I wish I had been skinnier. I’m a skinny bastard usually, so I usually have to go to the gym to put muscle on.
Well, you pulled it off.
It’s debatable. That’s the whole thing. When you see Brody at the beginning of the show and you see him naked, you think, ‘Well, maybe he should be a bit skinnier than that.’ And there was a lot of discussion that went on, actually, over how long Brody actually was a prisoner of war, and at what point he was under house arrest and living some sort of normal life within his new community in Syria where they moved him to before he’s moved back to Afghanistan for the overall plot. And the backstory was that he would have been put back in the hole for six to nine months in order to grow the beard long and to get the skin disintegration and stuff like that, so that when they find him it would be authentic. There was always a conversation of ‘Therefore, what would his weight be like?’
Voluntarily going into the hole for that many months was one of his biggest signs of devotion to the cause.
I think there’s a lot that happens between Abu Nazir and Brody. I think Abu Nazir never successfully radicalizes Brody in the conventional sense. I don’t think Brody straps on the suicide vest in the name of Allah, you know, against the Western infidel. I think it really becomes a more personalized act of vigilantism, if you like, as a soldier. And against Walden, the vice president, but certainly Abu Nazir knows how to use that for his gain, to manipulate Brody to use him as a weapon for his own cause.
Was Brody brainwashed by Abu Nazir?
It’s not a Manchurian Candidate. People liked to draw that comparison early on before they’d really seen it. You know, he hasn’t been hypnotized or brainwashed in that sense, but it has been a mind-altering experience, and he has been abused by a man who is really a father figure in his life. He looks up to this man as much as he fears and recoils from this man who’s brutalized him and harmed him. So Brody is made extremely vulnerable and unstable by the way he’s been treated.
There are hints of Stockholm Syndrome – him sympathizing with his captors. I think that is something you can legitimately say has happened to Brody. And so he’s predisposed to anger towards the perpetrators of the violent act, and loses his– for all intents and purposes, he loses his second son in that drone attack when he loses Isa. And because he’s vulnerable and unstable and possibly irrational, a confused young man, an abused young man, he acts in a volatile way, and that’s what turns him into a terrorist. The one thing we can be unequivocal about is that he does try to commit an act of terrorism. In whatever name, he straps a bomb to his chest and is prepared to blow people up. So that is certainly true of Brody. He’s confused enough to act that way: manipulated, influenced. But I would resist saying brainwashed.
You make an important but subtle distinction. He is a Muslim but his terrorist actions are not connected to his religion. They’re connected to a terrible event he experiences.
In the end, arguably, we didn’t get an opportunity to really explore it in quite enough detail, because it’s a thriller. There was a lot of story to get through, and to keep people guessing and to keep people excited. So I always thought it was a more subversive idea that a young marine would turn to Islam and that Islam would be a sustaining and nurturing positive force in his life, and that it would be something he actively chose, not that he was brainwashed into believing. It was a personal choice and I thought that was sort of more frightening to a lot of Americans, I think, they would find that an even more radical decision.
I guess we haven’t seen his moment of conversion to Islam.
You know, we haven’t, and honestly there just isn’t enough time. No stone is left unturned and if something isn’t there it’s because a decision was made not to have it there for some reason, and in the end you have to respect that. It was about midway through the season when they revealed to me the methodology of Brody’s attack and that was something that was always up for grabs and wasn’t decided until the last moment. And they were discussing it until the last moment and then they presented the idea to me that he would strap on a suicide vest and try to blow himself up. And my initial reaction was resistance. Having this finely balanced line that I’ve just been discussing with you, that Brody actually wasn’t a Jihadist sort of Islamic warrior. That’s such a potent image, but it was by far the strongest way to end the season. It’s a political image, and it was the right one, and I came out to seeing that. But I was initially concerned.
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